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Here’s a glimpse at the first chapter of WAR OF MAGIC:

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Chapter 1: Premonition

 

Vatar stared into the heart of his forge, gauging both the heat of the fire—just right—and the temperature of the piece of steel heating there—not quite ready to be worked on his anvil. He twitched his shoulders against a sudden prickling sensation, the one that always presaged danger.

His heartbeat sped up in reaction. Something bad was about to happen and he had no idea what it might be. Vatar tried to look away from the forge, to look around the yard beyond his workshop and locate the source of danger. It hadn’t been that long ago that his children had been attacked in that very yard. But something about the flames held his eyes. Shapes, moving.

At one time, before he’d known about his inborn magic, he’d seen visions in the fire. Most often of Thekila, the woman who was now his life mate. He knew now that had been Far Sight—that he was actually seeing her across an impossible distance with his magic. At the time he’d thought she was only a daydream.

Now that he had better control of his magic, his Far Sight shouldn’t operate without his intention. Anyway, that itch between his shoulder blades was a weak form of Fore Sight—the least reliable and most useless aspect of his magic. The one Talent he had no control over. Well, not entirely useless. That warning prickle had never been wrong. If it was Fore Sight and if it foretold some danger, as his warning signal indicated, he’d better pay attention.

Vatar leaned a little closer, trying to make some sense of the faint images. Ships. Many ships all heading toward the mouth of a bay. Vatar sucked in a deep breath. He knew that landscape, though he hadn’t seen it from that angle. Those promontories guarded the bay on which Caere rested, unless there was another place almost identical. What did that mean? The itch between his shoulder blades only intensified, portending danger. A naval attack on Caere? From where? And why? Caere was the center of a loose and mutually-beneficial alliance of all the coastal cities—well, except for Kausalya, which had recently broken away from that coalition. But, so far, that had only resulted in trade disruptions, not warfare. Not even a minor clash at sea that he’d heard of.

Then the images shifted and Vatar’s breath caught, edging toward panic. The ships became horses. Hundreds of horses charging across the plains. The riders carried bows and spears at the ready. The Dardani going to war? Against what enemy? The obvious answer to that was the thing he’d most feared. Would the Exiles and their Themyri minions finally slip past the southern defenses? How many battles lay ahead? And how far in the future? How long did they have to prepare? Years? Days? His danger sense usually indicated imminent threat, but it was nearly winter. The last merchant ship of the season had returned to harbor more than a seven-day ago. Even the fishermen wouldn’t brave the waters beyond the bay again until the weather calmed once more late next spring. And snow would soon cover the plains, if it didn’t already. Hardly conditions for a mass battle on horseback. That thought wasn’t as much comfort as it should have been.

He shook his head to clear it as the flames returned to being merely flames and cursed his Fore Sight. Once again, his ‘gift’ had given him insufficient information to be of any use. Other than to give him nightmares. No idea when this might happen. Some of the things his ancestress, Abella, had prophesied had taken six hundred years to come to pass. Somehow, he didn’t think he’d be anywhere near that lucky with this Fore Telling.

Vatar breathed in and out slowly, using the calming exercises he’d learned to gain control of his magic. It was more difficult to bring his emotions under control than it had been for some time. Maybe, partly, because he didn’t understand. A naval attack on Caere could only come from Kausalya, the only unfriendly city on the coast. But he didn’t see any relation between that and the Dardani, who lived three days journey from the sea and had no dealings at all with Kausalya. And, if he couldn’t make sense of his own premonition, how was he supposed to warn anyone?

His fists clenched in frustration and he had to start the breathing exercise over. It wasn’t as if he could force his Fore Sight to supply the missing information. Maybe more would be revealed before whatever these images foretold happened. Maybe not.

He blinked and wiped his sweaty palms on the sides of his trousers. Vatar glanced at the red-hot steel, now ready to be worked. But, maybe, instead of a knife, as he’d intended, he’d make a spearhead. And try to harness that wild Talent that sometimes allowed him to sing power into the blades he forged. Protection for the user. Just in case.

Enjoy. Oh, and you can pre-order WAR OF MAGIC for only $0.99 until September 27th.

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I’ve made good progress on the very rough draft of BECOME, the first book of my next epic fantasy series. But I’m starting to get the itch to go back to WAR OF MAGIC, the final book of the DUAL MAGICS series.
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This is exactly what I was hoping for when I took a short break to work on something else. Getting my enthusiasm for a project I’ve been working on for so long back up to the level I need to make the climax work.

I may work on the two in tandem for a while. I’ve done that before and the protagonists and stories are enough different that I think the risk of calling Vatar by Gaian’s name, or vice versa, is probably small. But I expect the momentum to carry me forward on WAR OF MAGIC before long.

Here’s a very early look at the first page of Become. This is part of the prologue. Gaian’s very first appearance shown from the point of view of one of his antagonists:

Queen Carala hung on tight to the railing at the top of the staircase for balance and scowled at the spectacle below her, clearly visible through the great doors, which had been flung wide for the occasion. A procession of priestesses, led by the High Priestess herself, climbed sedately up the broad steps of the Palace and were met by Carala’s husband of less than a year, Leradan, the Year King.

If she weren’t so heavily pregnant, she’d be down there herself. Not to welcome the priestesses, but to monitor whatever foolish promises Leradan made to them. Not that she’d have been able to sway him. Goddess knew she’d talked herself hoarse last night trying. But no one could change that man’s mind once he’d made it up. And he’d decided to let himself be thoroughly gulled about this.

Carala sighed. Much as she wanted to be there, it took two of her husband’s strongest guardsmen to see her safely down the steep staircase at this point. She’d just have to rely on her half-sister, Lady Damina, to let her know what ridiculous oaths the High Priestess extracted from Leradan.

Below, the High Priestess accepted a small, blanket-wrapped bundle from one of the other priestesses and passed it to Leradan. The infant squalled at the transfer and Leradan, blast the man, put the baby on his shoulder and rocked, completely oblivious to the effect on his dignity. Not that the demonstration that he would be a good father wasn’t reassuring. Carala placed a hand on her own swollen belly. But there was a time and place for everything. And the great hall, with the doors wide open to the whole kingdom, was not the place.

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It’s now less than two weeks until the release of DAUGHTER OF THE DISGRACED KING.

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So, here’s a sample. The opening scene:

Ailsa pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and emerged onto the wider trail. Even the sharp, clean scent of pine couldn’t distract her from the dead tree directly across from her, a mature oak that had been green and healthy the last time she rode this way. Now it was bare and the bark was already turning black. Her stomach clenched at the sight. This was very nearly the heart of Far Terra. If the magic was failing even here, how much worse would it be on the fringes, nearer the surrounding desert? Without more mages—and soon—Far Terra would die.

She shook her head as if to clear it. She couldn’t really begin to plan until she knew what kind of magic she had and she couldn’t learn that until she got to the Institute of Magical Arts. Today was supposed to be a farewell ride with her friends. Ailsa should be enjoying that. They’d had to leave early to escape the gaggle of girls who always seemed to be around to flirt with the princes. This was the last chance they’d have to ride like this for at least a year, maybe longer. She wanted to let Pearl have a good run and this seemed like the best place for it. Sav came out onto the trail, Cergio and Perion right behind him.

She grinned, deciding to throw out a challenge she knew they couldn’t refuse. “There’s an old oak farther on, about a quarter mile. Race you there!” She leaned forward and dug her heels into Pearl’s sides.

Sav’s big, leggy black caught up to her and then passed her. Ailsa’s lips thinned. At the last moment, she jerked the reins to the side and guided Pearl onto the narrower track, which also cut off a sweeping bend in the main trail. It wasn’t cheating. She’d only specified the destination, not the path.

Ailsa sat up in the saddle to look ahead. Three fallen logs lay across this less-used trail, with no room for a horse to take a full stride between them. The undergrowth was too dense to allow any chance of going around them. Pearl could jump any one of them easily, but three together with barely room for the mare to gather herself for the next jump was more challenging. Ailsa had faith that Pearl could do it.

She bent low over the withers of her horse and urged her forward. Pearl lifted off, easily clearing the first log, landing, and lifting off again. It felt like flying. Ailsa laughed as the wind of Pearl’s speed whipped her hair into her face. They broke out onto the main trail again only a couple of lengths ahead of Sav.

This time they were going to do it. This time they were going to win. Ailsa turned her head to look over her shoulder. Sav’s long-legged black was gaining on them, but the other two were lost in the dust, too far behind to have a prayer of catching up.

She wasn’t going to come in second. Not this time. A tiny whirlwind of fallen leaves would distract his horse and slow Sav down. She was tempted, but using magic really would be cheating. And that would take the luster off the win. Instead she leaned forward to whisper encouragement into Pearl’s ear. “Go, girl. You can do it.” The mare put on a burst of speed. Ailsa whooped and raised her arms in triumph as they passed the oak tree that marked the finish line.

She jumped down and hugged Pearl’s neck, then grabbed a cloth from her saddlebags and began wiping her down, even though that little run had barely raised a sweat. “You’re wonderful. You’re the best horse ever.”

Sav pulled his black stallion up beside her and dismounted.

Ailsa paused her rub down of Pearl to turn to him. “I told you she could beat your black, didn’t I? She’s faster than she looks.”

Savyon patted Pearl’s shoulder. “No. She just runs her heart out for you. It’s not the same thing.” His eyes glowed oddly as he met Ailsa’s. “It’s a gift. To be able to inspire that kind of loyalty. She runs beyond her abilities for you.”

Ailsa blushed and concentrated on wiping the last traces of sweat off Pearl’s gleaming coat. Pearl liked to run. And if Sav was about to accuse her of using magic to win the race—when she’d specifically restrained herself, too—she’d . . . she’d hit him, prince or not.

Sav looked back down the forest path to a narrow place where Cergio had somehow gotten his bay gelding turned sideways on the trail, blocking Perion. He swallowed and grabbed Ailsa’s hand. “Ailsa, I . . . I . . .”

Why was Sav stammering? He’d never been shy with her before. They’d known each other practically since she could walk, after all. And even if she did occasionally get a little irritated with him, she would never really hit him. She looked up into his eyes. “What is it, Sav?”

With a shout, Ailsa’s cousin, Perion, slipped around Cergio’s horse’s flank and raced towards them. Cergio followed at a slower pace.

Sav grimaced and drew a deep breath. “You will be coming to the ball tonight, won’t you?”

Ailsa nodded. “Yes, of course. It’ll be my last chance before I go south to school. I doubt I’ll get invited to very many parties there. Anyway, I’ll be there to study, not socialize.”

He squeezed her hand. “Promise me a dance?”

Ailsa smiled. “As many as you like, Sav. As always.” She turned back to Pearl to hide her face. Who else am I going to dance with? Perion? Aunt Izbel will prod him to ask me once or twice, but I know he’d rather be dancing with Delea. And Cergio will be on his next romantic campaign. He won’t have time for me.

“I’ll see you there, then,” Sav said and released her hand just as the others rode up.

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March MadnessTwo of my books are part of the Clean Indie Reads March Madness Sale this week. Check it out, not just for my books. There are a lot of great reads on sale. And check out the other blogs on the blog hop, too. Here.

There’s also a giveaway of several of the books in the hop–including The Bard’s Gift. Enter that here.


Fire and Earth:

Fire And Earth Cover (Provisional)

Though raised as a fearless, faceless warrior, Casora couldn’t stop her homeland’s invasion. Bullied, hapless princeling Tiaran can’t escape his political doom. When they join forces on the battlefield they’ll rock the foundations of kingdoms.

Chapter 1: Berserk

Casora restrained the impulse to get up and pace across the floor of the command tent. She couldn’t show emotion, not even frustration, in front of her troops, but the continued silence from home was troubling. She reached up to rub the little scar above her right eyebrow.

She glanced up at the mountains visible through the open tent flap. The snow crept lower every day and so did her hopes of a recall order to let the troop over-winter at home. Casora dreaded the prospect of a winter stuck in camp with a troop made up entirely of homesick teenagers–every one of them carrying the potential of the berserker curse. Time to start planning a lot of training exercises.

“Riders coming!” The shout came from the lookout to the east, toward home. After a pause, the lookout added, “Two of them.”

Only two riders? She’d sent three out.

Casora walked to the front of the tent and cursed under her breath. They were her scouts all right, but whatever orders they brought had better be end-of-the-world urgent. There was no other excuse for abusing the horses like that. Then she realized that Varana’s braid was redder than it should be–blood red. Casora took off running. So did others from all parts of the camp. Varana fell off the winded mare just as Casora reached her.

“Report,” she said, but more quietly than her usual command voice.

“Stumbled into a scouting party just inside the pass. Ambushed.”

Ravan ran up with a water skin and Casora held it so Varana could drink. “What happened?” She handed the skin back to Ravan and nodded towards the other scout.

“Ledan was out in front. Went down with the first volley. We tried to get to a defensible position. There were too many. Had to run. Bring word back here.”

Casora rocked back on her heels. “What about . . .” She paused to swallow and steady her voice. “What about home?”

“Smelled the smoke even before we got to the pass. Whole valley’s burning. Even from that high up, we could see the Yriri crawling all over the valley in their black armor, like ants on a corpse. There’s nothing left.”

Casora looked down at her empty palms. Her chest was too constricted to breathe. Astraea invaded? It wasn’t possible. Even the Deathless, really only warriors in training, had never been defeated. How could Astraea have been conquered?

The roar of angry voices around her snapped Casora back to her duty. She had to get them occupied with something and quick. She gripped the hilt of her sword. Anger, especially, was the enemy of the Cursed. Not something they could be allowed to engage in for long. Her eye lit on one of the greenest recruits, looking young and frightened. “You, see the wounded to the medicine tent. Look after them.”

Casora scanned the other faces around her. Orders wouldn’t come from home, so the decision was up to her. If Astraea was under attack, there was only one place where the Deathless should be and it wasn’t sitting uselessly in camp all winter. “Ravan, organize the band. We’ll need the horses and gear readied. Break down the camp. I want everything packed up and ready to move by dawn day after tomorrow.” She looked at the stunned faces around her. “Get a move on. The Deathless are needed at home.”

At that, the band broke into excited units, scattering to their various tasks. Casora breathed a sigh of relief. She felt Varana shaking her head against Casora’s supporting arm. Varana had more recent intelligence. Casora looked down to her friend’s face. “What is it?”

Varana’s answer was low enough that not many beside Casora heard it. “You didn’t see how many of those black-armored devils there are. Even the full band won’t be enough. That army could crush us like you or I would swat a fly. All we’d do is get ourselves killed, too.” Varana turned her head back toward the mountains. “Besides, the snow followed us down the mountain. It’s the only reason we got away from them. No one’s going into or out of Astraea until spring.”


and The Bard’s Gift:

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Astrid is too shy to even talk to the boy she likes, so naturally she’s the one the Norse gods choose to lead a bunch of stubborn Norsemen–using just stories to inspire them.

Chapter 1: Starvation

Astrid leaned into the freezing wind, staggering down the beach hunting for driftwood to feed their meager fire. She kept one eye open for anything edible. The gale felt like needles of ice penetrating even the thick white bear pelt she wore as a cloak.

The wind swept up the fjord straight off the icy sea, funneled by the steep hills on either side. Astrid paused to take shelter for a few moments under a rock overhang that blocked the gusts. With nothing to hunt for, she let her mind drift, retelling to herself some of the stories her grandmother used to tell her. It was almost as good as sleep to take her mind off her hunger and keep her company.

From her shelter, she could see one of the many islets in the fjord, one that would be a seal rookery later in the year. That made her think of the stories about selkies, sea creatures that could shed their skins and take human form once a year. She pictured them dancing down there on the beach, as the stories described. In her mind, the leader looked a lot like tall, red-blond Torolf. The stories said that if a human stole the seal skin while its owner was in human form, the selkie could be compelled to stay on land as the wife—or, she supposed, husband—of the thief. Pity the stories always ended with the selkie finding the stolen skin and returning to the sea.

She sighed. If it were only that easy. Why would Torolf ever give her a second glance if she could never manage to say a complete, coherent sentence in front of him? Well, Torolf wasn’t going to magically appear on the beach. She might as well continue her search. She had to go farther and farther afield to find anything these days.


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A few weeks ago, I entered the Pitch Plus 5 Contest over at Adventures in YA Publishing. Then, life being what it is, I lost track of when the first round of results were due. Apparently it was yesterday. Now, the way this contest works is that the first 50 entries make it into the contest. (Actually, the first 25 at an impossibly early–for the West Coast–entry window and the first 25 for a window 12 hours later.) Then, those entries are judged on a standard form by respected book bloggers on a standard scorecard. Based on those scores, the top 25 entries make it to the next round.

This time, entrants also get a short critique from that first judge. Email being what it is (newest on top), I read that critique before the announcement of who got in to the next round. The first sentence is “The opening didn’t hook me.” So, naturally, I thought that I wasn’t going any further this time. Then I get down to the list–and DAUGHTER OF THE DISGRACED KING is on it.

Here’s the initial entry, by the way.

So, now I have two days to make revisions and also do a little work on the query and get it in by midnight (9 p.m. my time) tomorrow night for the next round, judged by authors.

Yeah, that means that the first draft of BEYOND THE PROPHECY (book 3 of the DUAL MAGICS series) will be put on hold until Tuesday. (I have written a new first chapter for it, that does a better job of telegraphing the kind of story it will be.)

Meanwhile, I’m in the middle (exactly) of painting the final wall in what will be my new writing space.

Digital CameraWhat I want to know is: who had the bright idea for all those louvers?

Going to be a busy couple of days.

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Just a bit of fun. Me, reading the first scene of The Bard’s Gift (slightly edited to take out the worst flubs.)

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Here’s another snippet, the opening scene of BLOOD WILL TELL:

Blood Will Tell Cover

Valeriah let the droning voices wash over her, ignoring them. Politicians and businessmen: they could talk more and say less than any ten other groups. Fortunately, it wasn’t her job to listen to them. In fact, better not, since she needed to stay alert.

She scanned the crowd again. She didn’t see anything out of place, but her instincts screamed at her that something was wrong. Sight could be deceiving, so she submerged herself in her other senses. Senses that were sharper than a human’s.

There. The sharp scent of fear overlaid with anger. That was out of place on a sunny day at the opening ceremony for a new high school science lab. Circulating inconspicuously through the crowd, Valeriah let her nose lead her to the source. The man in the bright yellow T-shirt didn’t look like much, but a concealed weapon could be a great leveler. She didn’t smell gun oil on him, but there was something else.

The mayor finished his “brief” remarks, finally. Zobran–he called himself Zebulon Towers on this side of the portal–stood to give his speech as the primary benefactor of the lab. Valeriah breathed more deeply, still trying to identify the strange scent. Not dangerous. But something . . .

The yellow-shirted man moved forward, raising his arm and shouting. “Towers Technology works for the military. Their money is blood money.”

Oh. One of those. He probably wasn’t a real threat, but her job right now was to safeguard Zobran. Still, there wasn’t any need to do more than interfere. No point in drawing undue attention over a simple protester. Before the man could complete his motion and throw whatever it was he held in his hand, Valeriah pounced. She moved so fast her leg was a blur as she brought it around behind the man’s knees. He fell. Whatever he’d held in his hand shattered and splashed red across the grey concrete of the quad. Not blood, the smell was all wrong, but something meant to look like it.

Valeriah recovered quickly and raised her eyes to see that Rayan had closed in beside Zobran, covering him in case of another attack. Good. Rayan was new, but he seemed to know his job. The few policemen on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony pushed their way towards the disturbance. Valeriah eased her way out of the crowd, moving slowly so as not to draw attention to herself.

Also, there’s another new chapter of BLOOD IS THICKER available on wattpad.

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